Mother Teresa 5: Darkness
In 1953, M. Teresa wrote to the Archbishop these words: “Please pray specially for me that I may not spoil His work and that Our Lord may show Himself — for there is such terrible darkness within me, as if everything was dead. I has been like this more or less from the time I started ‘the work'” (Come Be My Light).
Now the big one: How do you understand Mother Teresa’s darkness?
Here are some of the many, many statements about darkness she herself made, statements that contradict other statements of faith and love for God/Jesus during the same period. She lived a paradox of unflinching faith and steely obedience in the face of (perceived) emotional distance from God. (Part of this emotional distance has to be explained by the glory of her own emotional union with Jesus prior to her calling to the poorest of the poor. She had been to the mountaintop and nothing seemed to count after that.)
“How long will Our Lord stay away?” (158)
“for within me everything is icy cold” (163)
“The more I want Him the less I am wanted” (164)
“He is destroying everything in me” (169)
“no faith — no love — no zeal” (169)
“I understand a little the tortures of hell — without God” (172)
“I did not know that love could make one suffer so much — this is of longing — of pain human but caused by the divine” (180)
“The child of your love — and now become as the most hated one” (186).
“If there be no God — there can be no soul. — If there is no soul then Jesus — You also are not true” (193).
“I no longer pray” (193).
“I am perfectly happy to be like this to the end of life” (198).
“I have come to love the darkness” (208).
Today I want to sort out how her spiritual advisors and how she saw her darkness.
First, what was her darkness? An emotional disconnect between her soul and God — involving her relationship to Jesus and to the Eucharist and to others. As I said on Monday, I think some of this is connected to her piety — with themes like self-denial, sacrifice and suffering shaping her consciousness — and even to emotional burnout, but this does not explain it adequately.
Second, her response was three-fold: blind faith in God regardless of what she felt and “smiles” that did two things — expressed visibly her faith and showed to others that suffering can be met with the loving smile of Jesus — and near total silence with all but three advisors.
Brian Kolodiejchuk, the one who has organized these letters and private writings into a whole for the Vatican (?), routinely “interprets” her darkness.
“Interior darkness was Mother Teresa’s priviledged way of entering into the mystery of the Cross of Christ” (156).
It was her participation in the (suffering) thirst of Jesus for souls.
It was a “veritable martyrdom of desire” (180).
Jesus “was living in and through her without her being able to savor the sweetness of His presence” (212).
An identification with Christ and with the suffering of others.
Suggested at least once she was fatigued (158).
Her experience is the dark night of the soul of the mystics (164)
Purification and protection against pride (167)
Fr. Joseph Neuner was the most helpful of all of her advisors:
“It was simply the dark night of which all masters of spiritual life know — though I never found it so deeply, and for so many years as in her” (214). [This is why I think it is unwise, unless prefaced and followed by lots of nuance, of calling M. Teresa’s darkness the dark night of the soul. It went on for too long.]
Here’s the statement of his that changed her life: “The sure sign of God’s hidden presence in this darkness is the thirst for God, the craving for at least a ray of His light” (214).
And, “Thus the only response to this trial is the total surrender to God and the acceptance of the darkness in union with Jesus” (214).
Thus, her darkness was participation in the suffering death of Jesus. It was union with Jesus’ pain for others. It was this statement that led her to say she had come to love the darkness.
“When outside — in the work — or meeting people — there is a presence — of somebody living very close — in very me” (211).
M. Teresa did not think her suffering was the dark night of the soul. “She had the intuition and now a confirmation from her spiritual director, that, though the sufferings were similar, their purpose was different” (218). She was not being purged; she was in union with the sufferings of Christ.
It took one step for her and others to see in her darkness the experience of Paul in Colossians: “in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.”
One of her famous prayers and mantras: “Jesus I accept whatever you give — and I give whatever you take” (225).
“If I ever become a saint — I will surely be one of ‘darkness.’ I will continually be absent from heaven — to light the light of those in darkness on earth” (230).
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